New research will help predict potentially fatal adverse reactions to specific children's drugs

    VANCOUVER, Jan. 23 /CNW/ - When a child is fighting a life-threatening
illness such as a brain tumour, the last thing they need to deal with is a
serious adverse reaction to the very drugs that are meant to be saving their
    This is precisely what happened to then one and a half year old Stefan.
Diagnosed with a serious brain tumour, he underwent invasive surgery followed
by five rounds of debilitating chemotherapy that left the normally active
toddler bedridden for weeks at a time.
    It wasn't until the final round of chemotherapy that it became clear that
Stefan's hearing had been damaged. He, like many others, had an adverse
reaction to the necessary cancer drug, cisplaten.
    His mother, Dana Tent recalls, "We were warned that this could happen. We
kept doing audio tests after each round of chemo, but we had no choice but to
go on if we wanted to beat the cancer. When it was finally confirmed that his
hearing had been permanently damaged, I almost couldn't bear it. It was just
so unfair."
    According to Health Canada, more than 50 percent of newly approved
therapeutic health products have serious Adverse Drug Reactions (ADRs) that
are discovered after the product reaches the market. Additionally, a full 75
percent of medications have never been tested in children.
    It's not surprising that ADRs lead to 10,000 - 22,000 deaths per year in
Canada alone, and over $13 billion dollars in health spending.
    But thanks to a ground-breaking new Genome BC research project
"Genotype-Specific Approaches to Therapy in Childhood: The Canadian
Pharmacogenomics Network for Drug Safety", announced today in Vancouver at the
Child and Family Research Institute (CFRI), frequent adverse drug reactions to
specific drugs commonly used to treat cancer in children, as well as pain, may
soon become a thing of the past.
    Internationally-renowned, BC-based project leaders Dr. Bruce Carleton, (a
clinical pharmacologist and Director of Pharmaceutical Outcomes Program at
Children and Women's Health Centre of BC(*)) and Dr. Michael Hayden, (a
geneticist and Director of the UBC Centre for Molecular Medicine and
Therapeutics at CFRI), have their sights set on the ultimate prize: diagnostic
tests that will evolve into a routine tool for clinicians to safely select
medications and drug doses for patients, based on their individual genetic
    The $3.9 million approved project, funded by Genome BC and other funding
partners, builds on the work they have done to establish a cross-Canada
network to monitor ADRs, the researchers have collected thousands of samples
from patients who experienced ADRs reported by nine paediatric teaching
hospitals across Canada, and targeted three key drugs that can cause serious
ADRs in children:

    -   Cisplatin-induced deafness - The drug of choice for solid tumours in
        children and ovarian cancer in women, it causes hearing impairment in
        the vast majority of children who receive it - a million new patients
        per year in North America and Europe.

    -   Anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity - A very effective leukemia
        drug, it causes heart damage in 18% of children who receive it. There
        are nearly a million patients in North America who receive this drug

    -   Infant mortality associated with maternal use of codeine - Up to
        2,000 Canadian babies per year are at risk based on their genetic

    Project leader Dr. Bruce Carleton believes in the huge potential of this
research. "If we can know in advance that people have genetic variations, and
specific variations lead to harmful outcomes, then we know how to make
decisions about using a particular drug."
    "It's kind of like buying shoes," says Dr. Michael Hayden. "We measure
the foot first and take into account that everyone has a different shoe size,"
he says. "The same goes for drugs."
    Drs. Hayden and Carleton both feel strongly about the unique role of
Canada's public healthcare system in facilitating a nationwide approach to
identify people who have had adverse side effects. "This research simply
wouldn't have been possible in another type of healthcare system in another
part of the world," says Hayden.
    "Today's announcement supports the Province's commitment to promoting and
supporting research that ensures children - and their families - have the best
treatment options," said B.C. Health Services Minister George Abbott. "The
ground-breaking efforts of the Genome BC research projects will help minimize
potential adverse drug reactions and the team behind the work should be
    The scientists expect to develop this diagnostic test within two years,
which will ultimately become a tool for clinicians, a simple saliva test, to
determine a patient's potential risk for ADRs and customize their treatment.
    "Genome BC is delighted to support such a high-caliber research project
that addresses a critical need such as ADRs in children. This project embodies
the promise of personalized medicine," says Alan Winter, Genome BC's President
and CEO.

    About Genome BC:

    Genome British Columbia is a research organization that invests in and
manages large-scale genomics and proteomics research projects and science and
technology platforms focused on areas of strategic importance such as human
health, forestry, fisheries, ethics, agriculture, and the environment. By
working collaboratively with all levels of government, universities and
industry, Genome BC is the catalyst for a vibrant, genomics-driven life
sciences cluster with far reaching social and economic benefits for the
Province and Canada.

    (*) The Children & Women's Health Centre of BC is comprised of BC
    Children's Hospital, Sunny Hill Health Centre and BC Women's Hospital
    & Health Centre

For further information:

For further information: visit; Media contacts: Rachael
Froese Zamperini, Communications Consultant, Genome BC, (604) 612-6345; Julia
White, Communications Officer, Genome BC, (604) 637-4378

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